Work Experience for Medicine
Medicine is an extremely popular course, with universities receiving many more applications than there are places. To decide who to interview, and later on, who to offer places to, the universities use several methods to differentiate between candidates. One of these is to look at their work experience, and their reflections on it.
Why is it Needed?
When applying to medical school, you are not just applying to study medicine, but to train to be a doctor. This is a challenging, demanding career and before applying you need to make sure that it is the right choice for you. Work experience can help you determine this by bringing you into contact with the people and places that doctors will encounter during their careers.
Work experience can also help you to develop skills that doctors need. Examples of these are communication and empathy. By spending time volunteering in places where you will use these skills, you will be able to develop and improve these skills, as well as gain confidence when using them.
What Work Experience is Relevant?
The most relevant experience is that in hospitals, hospices and GP surgeries. This may be short-term shadowing of medical staff, usually for a week, or longer-term voluntary work, where you spend some time there each work. What you do during this time depends on the hospital you are at, the ward and the staff. Tasks may vary from chatting to patients to helping to make beds to observing medical procedures.
Other places where you can gain relevant experience are care homes and day centres. These will require you to volunteer for a certain number of hours each week and again, what you actually do will vary. You may be asked to help with some activities, for example.
Organisations like Mind or Age Concern can also provide you with relevant experience. Each will have different opportunities available, and some will be more useful than others. Befrienders are often required, who will spend an hour or two each week with a person who needs support. Sometimes this will involve taking them out somewhere, sometimes it will be just sitting and talking to them. This has the advantage of allowing you to build up a long-term relationship with the person you are supporting, which will allow you to learn a lot from them over time.
How to Find Work Experience
Start by looking at your local hospital website, as they often contain information about volunteering. If not, phone the hospital and ask how you can find out about volunteering. This is also the case for looking for a placement shadowing a doctor, because some hospitals have schemes in place for this.
For GP shadowing, write a letter addressed to the practice manager explaining what you are looking for, and why you want to do it. Including a copy of your CV is also a good idea, especially if you have already done some relevant experience, because it shows them you are serious about getting into medicine.
Volunteering websites such as www.do-it.org.uk are good places to look for opportunities, and you can also contact your local volunteering centre. For experience in care homes, contacting them directly can be the best way to organise some volunteering.
Gaining work experience, especially shadowing doctors, can be almost as competitive as getting into medical school itself. What opportunities are available depends on where you live, when you are available and in some cases, your age – some places only accept people over 18, and some places will only accept those applying at 18, rather than graduates.
Despite this competition, there is no set rule for how much experience you need to get into medical school, what is more important is that you are able to talk about your experiences and reflect on them sufficiently.